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Science Curious through Science Fiction

n episode 4 of D&I ComSci—now renamed DEAI ComSci (for Range, Fairness, Accessibility, and Inclusion), American Scientist’s science-for-all podcast—we’re discussing how science fiction movies and tv promote science curiosity.

Analysis suggests people who find themselves science curious usually tend to settle for scientific reasoning, even for matters reminiscent of local weather change the place political occasion views differ broadly. (N.B. A brief bibliography of analysis informing this podcast is out there beneath the transcript.)

Hear from science communication practitioners and students Reyhaneh Maktoufi, Thomas DeFrantz, and Stephanie Castillo.

Jordan Anderson: Science Communication. Inclusive science communication. You are listening to American Scientist’s D-E-A-I ComSci, the science-for-all podcast the place we purpose to discover how science communicators are making science extra reflexive, equitable, and interesting for audiences. On this episode, constructing science curiosity by science fiction movie and videography. We’ll hear from science communication leaders and filmmakers Reyhaneh Maktoufi recognized for her work on science curiosity, Thomas DeFrantz, my former Afrofuturism professor now instructing at Northwestern College, and Stephanie Castillo, a buddy, science communicator, and videographer. I am your host, Jordan Anderson.

[music ends]

Earlier than we start, it’s been two years for the reason that July 2020 Black Lives Matter actions and the explosion of variety, fairness, accessibility, and inclusion initiatives that developed in consequence. Since then, organizations throughout the nation have expanded the acronym D&I, for variety and inclusion, to be extra consultant. So, we’re too. This podcast, D&IComSci will now be known as DEAI ComSci. Now, on with the episode.

[excerpt from Everything Everywhere All at Once] “ What’s occurring?
“Evelyn, I’m not your husband. I’m an phantasm of him from one other universe. I’m right here as a result of we want your assist.”
“Very busy immediately. No time that can assist you.”
[music continues]

Jordan Anderson: Within the movie Every thing In all places All at As soon as by Daniel Kwan, the plot capitalizes on a well-liked subject in science fiction immediately: the multiverse. The multiverse is an idea that, although summary, is an actual concept in fashionable science. And the movie’s title—Every thing In all places All at As soon as—hints at what the time period multiverse means.

Max Tegmark, a physicist on the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise describes the multiverse a bit extra exactly.

Max Tegmark: …house goes on ceaselessly, which implies there are infinitely many different areas like this, which we name the extent one multiverse.

Jordan Anderson: It’s a theoretical likelihood that if the universe is infinite, then you definitely, me, and everybody has at the least one doppelgänger. That may imply there’s somebody who exists someplace within the universe with the very same anatomy and experiences as you, me, and everybody else, that means that all the things additionally has a reproduction within the universe, too.

[music ends]

This multiverse concept has been popularized in lots of movies, together with the Marvel cinema franchise. Dialogue boards throughout the web present simply how a lot persons are speaking concerning the science in these motion pictures in new, shocking, and generally even fearful methods. And that bought me considering. How can scientists and inclusive science communicators use science fiction motion pictures to enhance DEAI efforts, constructing science curiosity in our communities?

[music starts]

Unidentified voice – Reyhaneh Maktoufi: I am a fan of science curiosity.

Jordan Anderson: That’s science communicator and media producer Reyhaneh Maktoufi.

[music ends]

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: To start with, simply the conventional cause I am like, I believe curiosity is enjoyable. I will be bored if I don’t have that curiosity of exploring the world. I simply suppose it’s lovely and there is a lot simply awe and sweetness that occurs simply by with the ability to discover. And we all know from analysis when you’ve gotten extra curiosity, you are extra more likely to dedicate, you already know, sources and power to discover the world and to discover and to attempt to perceive what the solutions are.

[typing/clicking sounds]

Jordan Anderson: In keeping with google statistics, extra folks searched “Multiverse” in Could than another time in 2022. That’s when Dr. Unusual and the Multiverse of Insanity got here out.


With this launch got here a flood of articles that additional discover the speculative science within the film, a lot of which had been from science-accredited sources like NPR and Nationwide Geographic. In flip, these articles prompted science curiosity. However is constructing curiosity sufficient for inclusive science communicators to achieve new audiences, even these hesitant towards science?

[music ends]

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: One of many issues that I believe actually made me take into consideration science curiosity and its significance in controversial matters is a examine carried out by Dan Kahan, and Ashley Landrum, and a few of their colleagues, which was about local weather change communication and the way folks imagine that there is the danger of local weather change.

Jordan Anderson: The paper is titled is “Science Curiosity and Political Data Processing.” And it was printed in 2017.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: And this was additionally through the time the place quite a lot of us had been like, “Oh, if we simply educate folks about local weather change, they are going to change their thoughts. And all the things’s going to be nice and jolly, and we’ll save humanity.”

Jordan Anderson: Maktoufi says, along with political partisanship, the researchers had been additionally folks’s stage of training.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: One thing that their examine exhibits, and these are correlations, proper? So, we’re not speaking about causation, and what precipitated what. One of many issues that their examine exhibits is that the upper educated you’re, the extra probably that you may be partisan about what you imagine with local weather change. So, for instance, I’d suppose that if an individual is very educated, they may imagine within the threat of local weather change. However what they confirmed is that if you happen to’re a extremely educated Republican, you are extra more likely to disagree with the danger of local weather change. Like far more than somebody that has much less training. And if you happen to’re a extremely educated Democrat, you are far more more likely to imagine within the threat of local weather change in comparison with somebody that has much less training and is a Democrat.

Jordan Anderson: One interpretation the researchers had was that well-educated folks had been higher at developing with causes to defend political beliefs they already had. So training stage was not a great indicator of individuals’s beliefs about local weather change.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: OK, so if it isn’t an training, then let’s take a look at one thing else. So the opposite factor they checked out was science curiosity, and that was like, you already know, how probably I’m to love, go eat information that’s about science. And what that confirmed is that if you happen to’re science curious, you are really extra more likely to imagine within the threat of local weather change. And that features inside your political partisanship. So if you happen to’re a Republican that’s extra science curious, you are extra more likely to imagine within the threat of local weather change, proper, in comparison with your different Republican pals that could be much less science curious. So, there’s one thing to that concept that like this science curiosity may be very correlated with us in search of info that’s counter to what we imagine and being open to that.


Jordan Anderson: So, perhaps what’s occurring is that increase science curiosity prompts folks to lookup scientific details for themselves, similar to I—and tens of millions of different folks did—in wanting up the “multiverse” on Google after seeing a science fiction movie on that topic.

Maktoufi says science fiction can simply catch our consideration. Constructing off of our feelings, like, our fears.

[music ends]

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: I believe science fiction builds rather well off of our fears, and issues that we anticipate would possibly occur. So, one of many questions folks would ask loads through the periods on the — I used to be on the Adler Planetarium amassing my knowledge, and my discipline, the subject was science curiosity and what are the sorts of questions folks ask — and one thing that will come up was like Armageddon.

Jordan Anderson: Armageddon was a well-liked science movie from 1998.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: And it was like, “So there was this asteroid coming to Earth, what ought to we do if that occurs?” It is science fiction, but it surely’s one thing that all of us nonetheless fear about. It is nonetheless very related, as a result of despite the fact that it isn’t as probably, if it occurs, it’s the finish of the world in some methods.


Jordan Anderson: Along with concern, Maktoufi additionally talked about folks are also science curious concerning the potential of the longer term like the potential of visiting or residing on different planets, reminiscent of Mars. The Martian was one movie that explored that concept.

[music ends]

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: We do have conversations about you already know, going to Mars and residing on Mars and the way that is gonna have an effect on us. So, folks do ask questions on, you already know, what about like The Martian was lifelike or no. Like, can we try this sooner or later? And I believe, yeah, the extra these items have gotten part of life as we all know it, whether or not it is about asteroid hitting us or us eager to similar to all transfer to Mars, they change into extra lifelike. Proper? Like, there have all the time been conversations about issues like aliens and UFOs. And are they actual or not? Are they like amongst us? So, these are the sorts of issues persons are actually inquisitive about. And generally not as a result of it is essentially essential, however as a result of it is shocking and new and novel. And I believe novelty can also be one thing else that will get folks excited.

Jordan Anderson: Maktoufi additionally stated one thing that made me suppose science documentaries and different science fact-based filmography may also use novelty to their benefit.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: So you might be inquisitive about one thing that’s not even related to you or essential to your life the place you’re like, “Oh, this can be a fully new concept.”


And science fiction does that basically nicely. I believe perhaps with [The] Matrix.

That was one thing very new that it was a theme that then all of the sudden everybody was like, “Oh my God, what if I am in a simulation?” Proper? It is nonetheless fiction, but it surely’s form of associated to me, and it is very novel, after which all of the sudden makes you suppose very otherwise concerning the world.

[music ends]

Jordan Anderson: Pondering very otherwise concerning the world that we stay in is how Maktoufi says inclusive science communicators can foster science curiosity in additional various areas.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: I am Iranian, proper? As an Iranian like we’re very obsessive about poetry. All of us grew up on poetry. So, one thing that like induces awe in me—like makes me need to cry and like really feel like small and insignificant—quite a lot of instances is rather like studying poetry. And simply taking that—this concept of one thing like awe is just not essentially one thing that all of us expertise all for a similar issues and it relies on the place we’re coming from what our tradition is—I believe the identical goes with curiosity. We quite a lot of instances, consider like, “Oh, that is the usual for curiosity.” However that’s as a result of it was all the time the identical individuals who had this data gatekeeping of like “That is all I do know, and now I could make you curious.” However after we convey in several people who have completely different information and have completely different entry to information and have completely different experiences, they could additionally know who’re the completely different communities that will be inquisitive about completely different matters.

Jordan Anderson: And Maktoufi says folks with various backgrounds must be behind the digicam, too.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: So, it isn’t simply that, “Oh, I will make a movie about various scientists,” proper? As a result of that is simply my notion of like, “Oh, that is science, and these are all various scientists that I am exhibiting you.” But it surely’s additionally who’s behind the digicam that decides these are the narratives that matter, and these are the methods folks will probably be curious, and the matters folks will probably be curious, and I will present you the range in entrance of the digicam. However these base essential choices are made by the people who who’re behind the digicam – the people who find themselves writing the science communications scripts, the people who find themselves internet hosting podcasts, proper? And that issues loads.

Unidentified Voice – Thomas DeFrantz: So, illustration is a superb factor that helps us form of open out house for folks to be excited to take part.

Jordan Anderson: That’s Thomas DeFrantz.


Thomas DeFrantz: I am a professor within the division of efficiency research and theatre at Northwestern College. Extra importantly, I direct the SLIPPAGE lab. And the SLIPPAGE lab is concentrated on deploying new applied sciences in the direction of theatrical storytelling in addition to different historical past making, the place we world-make utilizing expertise, efficiency, and tradition as vectors to suppose otherwise a couple of future that we would all need to share.

Jordan Anderson: Star Trek: the Subsequent Era, is a future some folks need to share. However DeFrantz says creator and screenwriter Gene Roddenberry imagined a future in a approach that plenty of science fiction does: inserting folks of colour in conditions the place they’re lower than human.

Thomas DeFrantz: So an apparent instance is Geordi on Star Trek, and for—I do not know—years, this character could not have eyes.

Jordan Anderson: Geordi, performed by LeVar Burton, was blind along with his eyes hidden till season 4 episode 24 in 1991—roughly 4 years.

[music ends]

Thomas DeFrantz: And you already know, there was probably not a cause for that perhaps the writers thought he was extra of a form of futuristic Black individual, you already know, who’s embedded in expertise himself. However what that that imagery does to us is it places us in an outdated trope the place we’re not fairly human, we’re not going to ever have romance, and, you already know, I don’t know if Geordi ever had a plot, you already know, round romance or the issues which may drive human interplay.

Jordan Anderson: In fact, within the unique Star Trek, which was produced again within the Nineteen Sixties, Gene Roddenberry additionally launched the world to the character Nyota Uhura, a supporting position performed by Nichelle Nichols. DeFrantz says the rise of science fiction within the Nineteen Sixties corresponds with the rise of the civil rights motion.

Thomas DeFrantz: And the rise of science fiction additionally meant the rise of individuals of colour within the areas of scientists and engineers and medical assistants. In order that there was this fashion that whilst these motion pictures from the 60s, nonetheless had form of a middle of form of white masculinity — so if we take into consideration motion pictures like Soylent Inexperienced [1973], or the Andromeda Pressure [1971], or 2001: A House Odyssey [1968], you already know, there is a form of whiteness on the heart of all these motion pictures — however in lots of of those motion pictures, there are additionally Black femme, Black ladies, Black males, who’re the scientists and engineers who’re supporting the plot, and are, you already know, inevitably form of essential characters within the motion pictures.

Jordan Anderson: DeFrantz says that form of illustration of individuals of colour continued—in matches and begins—till Black Panther [2018], directed by Ryan Coogler.


This emphasised the purpose that Maktoufi made about placing folks of colour behind the digicam, too.

[music ends]

Thomas DeFrantz: And, you already know, we lastly get a full-fledged, absolutely budgeted Hollywood film that is centered on a Black inhabitants that is solely science fiction primarily based, however the place we’ve got a younger Black lady because the lead, you already know, engineer, and the form of smartest individual on the planet is among the feminine characters on this film. And so, we form of see the opposite finish of issues if you’ll, of issues that began within the 1960’s civil rights motion.

So we need to be actually suspicious of storytelling that locations folks of colour into roles which can be subservient, and likewise non-human, that deny us a primary humanity, and a capability to vary our minds, to be not sure, to make actually nice choices and remedy issues, but in addition to make errors, to fall in love, and to be confused. I imply, we want all of these issues to be within the media that’s serving to us think about ahead in the direction of a science that all of us share.

Jordan Anderson: However is science fiction actually the venue for imaging a science actuality that all of us share? Stephanie Castillo works on non-fiction, science documentaries.

Stephanie Castillo: I just lately earned my PhD in science communication the place I researched illustration and storytelling narratives in science media.

Jordan Anderson: Castillo particularly studied the forms of science tales that appeal to younger adults and faculty college students.

Stephanie Castillo: I used to be particularly wanting into “How can we inform science tales and what really will get younger adults and early faculty college students attracted to those science tales?” And whether or not that’s specializing in the analysis facet of the science or the folks facet of the science.

Jordan Anderson: With these two classes – specializing in the analysis or specializing in the folks – does it actually matter if the science story is fictional or not? Castillo says it’s the storycraft itself that basically captures the viewers’s consideration.

Stephanie Castillo: With trade apply, their purpose is to be sure that they’re really producing one thing that individuals need to watch and going to suggest different folks to observe to allow them to make the cash again from like, what they invested in when it comes to like producing the Hollywood movie. And, you already know, really making a story that is really charming and folks really perceive the characters and like, their arc and the story that they are attempting to inform. These are the identical form of parts that we have seen within the phrases of apply of science filmmaking. However I suppose we’ve got a special name to motion that different practising science communicators do. So coming again to form of the conservation efforts or, like, advocacy efforts. If the purpose is to get folks to enroll to petition to one thing, or to advocate for laws, or to vary insurance policies, that may be a completely different final result that they’re searching for relatively than simply to entertain somebody with a great story.

Jordan Anderson: And so in the case of selling variety, fairness, accessibility, and inclusion, Castillo says all of it comes all the way down to intentionality.

Stephanie Castillo: It is both by, like, who’s behind the digicam, who’s in entrance of the digicam, like, how are you presenting the folks which can be being introduced and even the science that is being introduced. Are we being culturally delicate? Are we really attempting to not venture our personal biases or stereotypes into the tales that we’re attempting to inform? Or, even the best way that we characterize the scientists in entrance of the digicam?

And so, it actually comes all the way down to — by being intentional and serious about these items, then that’s the best way that we’re lowering the identical formulation that we form of fall lure into when it comes to if we’re in search of documentaries to be impressed by, it’s all the time like, the white male narrator speaking us by these like, lovely images. The entire, you already know, the person who’s in entrance of them is like, you already know, an older, white, British man speaking about this, or the folks behind the digicam is an entire workforce of like, one sort of demographic. And so there’s been an even bigger push to form of have extra variety behind the digicam. And by having that variety behind the digicam, then we all know that there’s completely different views within the room to be sure that we’re pushing intentionality of how we characterize the folks in entrance of the digicam, and who’s tales we resolve to inform and the way we resolve to inform these tales.

Jordan Anderson: With science fiction, then, it’s simpler to concentrate on storycraft as a result of the story doesn’t should be true. However as a result of our purpose as inclusive science communicators is to foster science curiosity, the science introduced shouldn’t fall into the realm of science fantasy.

[spoken clip from The Core]

And that’s the place we’ve got our downside. This engine has stalled. The core of the Earth has stopped spinning.

Jordan Anderson: The film The Core, wherein scientists journey to the middle of the Earth, is stuffed with fantasy. And in a paper by Michael Barnett, Heather Wagner, and others, the researchers discovered the film The Core gave college students at a various center college a number of inaccurate understandings about earth science.

Thomas DeFrantz: When science fiction is by no means plausible, audiences and a common public transfer away.

Jordan Anderson: Once more, Thomas DeFrantz of Northwestern College.

[music ends]

Thomas DeFrantz: An instance just like the film The Core is a form of science that most individuals simply don’t know something about. So whereas it was science fiction, it was additionally a little bit of fantasy and a lot of the viewers do not know what the Earth‘s crust is put collectively of. So the film might nonetheless achieve success for its motion and journey.

So I believe it’s actually a query of science fiction being a bit completely different from fantasy. Science fiction to achieve success needs to construct on good science, whereas fantasy does one thing else. Audiences are drawn to science fiction when it appears believable and truly builds from science that most individuals know to be robustly figured.

Science fiction is certainly higher when it stays very near science. Because of this we like the tv present Black Mirror a lot. It builds on issues that we already know to be in movement after which stretches what they will just do sufficient to make an attention-grabbing TV present.

Jordan Anderson: Now, it’s possible you’ll be considering, “Wait, Black Mirror? I discover that present disturbing and miserable.” Lots of people do. And so for these of us eager about speaking science to encourage curiosity and enhance DEAI efforts, media producer Reyhaneh Maktoufi says we must always purpose to depart our audiences with one thing constructive—if not an answer, then a advice, hope, or potential course forward.

Reyhaneh Maktoufi: So one thing that we do know is if you happen to consistently convey up themes which can be damaging and about doom and gloom—we see that quite a lot of instances with local weather change communication, and it is like, ‘Effectively, the world is ending right here so you possibly can’t be inquisitive about it as a result of we’re telling you the way it ends’—however what occurs is, as people the place we get a lot negativity and a lot dangerous information and doom and gloom, you sooner or later begin ignoring the information, proper, and you’re feeling that helplessness. So that you would possibly similar to change off, otherwise you would possibly go into denial. That is why it is essential, I believe, you can not simply have narratives of doom and gloom, even when they’re curiosity inducing. You must have narratives of hope and motion that you could pair with people who it is like, ‘Hey, be inquisitive about this as a result of it is occurring and it is occurring in your yard and it is occurring proper now—this local weather change factor. However be curious additionally about these actually cool new mind-blowing options that we’ve got which can be doable, and we’ve got the power to make them occur. Do you need to study extra about these, proper?” So, that you must pair them up collectively, as a result of in any other case, if you happen to simply have the doom and gloom, proper, it is like, then “I will simply be helpless.” And it would even backfire. However when you have them related collectively, then I perceive the urgency of it and I additionally need to do one thing about it, as a result of I do know I can do one thing about it.

Jordan Anderson: And if doing one thing about it means—for you—making your individual science movies, science communicator Stephanie Castillo says there are cheap methods to enter the sector, together with borrowing or renting gear.

Stephanie Castillo: There is a bunch of like tutorials on YouTube that form of stroll you thru that course of. And so I taught myself the best way to use Adobe Premiere Professional and After Results to make animations. And that is why I form of made my first video, which was fairly thrilling. After which, I sought alternatives on the college. It was like a digital humanities fellowship. And the fellowship was to offer you want, a pair hundred {dollars} simply to form of like develop an concept. And so I pitched to them Phuture Medical doctors, and that is the place I used to be ready, I used to be paired with an training division on campus that already had like, a built-in like, video studio was there. And so I used to be ready to make use of their services to form of like host my first science video and get some cash to pay for like, the Adobe subscription and stuff like that.


Jordan Anderson: And, Castillo provides, there’s room in your voice, too.

Stephanie Castillo: It could really feel like there’s oversaturation of individuals on YouTube. However like, we want extra several types of voices and tales to be lined. So simply to select up the digicam and simply attempt it.

Jordan Anderson: In immediately’s information-saturated world, the place false commercial and misinformation are commonplace, by being science curious, we’re motivated to hunt out the details concerning the world we stay in, the drugs we must always take, and dangers related to our day by day lives.

On this podcast, we’ve realized how science fiction could be a medium to construct science curiosity by bringing us into new, shocking, and generally even scary universes that stem from the scientific prospects of immediately. We’ve additionally realized it’s additionally as essential for us to remain conscious of who’s speaking these messages. Can we solely take into consideration variety from those that we see in entrance of the digicam or are we additionally serious about variety in these behind the digicam doing the filmmaking?

This episode of DEAI ComSci has been delivered to you by American Scientist and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Analysis Honor Society, and was edited by Robert Frederick. For hyperlinks to the research talked about on this episode in addition to a transcript, please go to AmericanScientist.org and search for the weblog submit that accompanies this podcast. Particular because of Reyhaneh Maktoufi, Thomas DeFrantz, and Stephanie Castillo for becoming a member of us immediately. Right this moment’s music selections come from Every thing In all places All at As soon as, Amy Water’s Star Trek: The Subsequent Era Primary Theme, The Martian, The Core, The Matrix, Dr. Unusual within the Multiverse of Insanity, Black Panther’s Pray for Me Instrumental Model by the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar, Epidemic Sound, and the Free Music Archive. Please be sure you take a look at Maktoufi’s TED Speak the place she additional discusses science curiosity, SLIPPAGE by Dr. DeFrantz, and Castillo’s Phuture Medical doctors. In the event you like what you heard immediately, comply with American Scientist and comply with me on Twitter @Jordan_ArtSci. I am your host Jordan. Thanks for listening.

[music ends]

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